Idaho lawmakers reject air quality repeal

THURSDAY, FEB. 12, 2009, 2:46 P.M.

BOISE - Rep. Dick Harwood, R-St. Maries, failed to persuade the House Environment Committee on Thursday to introduce his bill to repeal last year’s much-negotiated, long-sought air quality vehicle emissions testing bill.

The panel voted 6-5 to reject the bill, though some members agreed with Harwood that there’s really no air pollution problem.

“What this emission does is got the DEQ chasing the tail,” Harwood told the panel. “Our emissions have been going down since the mid-‘70s, down, down, down.”

He said he feared the vehicle testing program would spread to North Idaho, because last year’s bill applies statewide to areas where vehicle emissions hit certain levels. “This started out to be an Ada County/Canyon County fight and it ended up to be a full-state emission program,” Harwood said. “We’re spending a pile of money testing for emissions for something that’s not going to make much of a difference.”

Rep. Erik Simpson, R-Idaho Falls, told Harwood, “I would agree with what you said, in that vehicles are unfairly targeted in the attempt to try and reduce these greenhouse emissions.”

The law in question, however, doesn’t regulate greenhouses gases, which aren’t regulated by the state. It targets vehicle emissions.

Rep. Stephen Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, said new federal gas mileage standards will cut vehicle emissions regardless of anything else. “So in the future we can expect that Boise air pollution would probably cease to be a problem,” Hartgen told the committee.

State Department of Environmental Quality Director Toni Hardesty said long-term that could happen, but the Boise area is seeing huge increases in numbers of cars and vehicle-miles traveled that outpace any gains from fuel efficiency.

Harwood also suggested that the state DEQ is purposely placing air quality monitors in the most-polluted areas in order to turn up high readings, and that when pollution goes down, the federal Environmental Protection Agency lowers pollution standards so it can keep regulating. “It’s just a vicious turn,” Harwood said. “I see that in my own mind. I don’t know where we end up stopping.”

Hardesty, in a phone interview, said, “We are following the federal criteria of where to site those, so that we can determine what the concentrations are that the public is breathing, so that we can protect public health.”

Congress requires the EPA to review air standards every five years to ensure they protect public health, she said. “Certain pollutants have been reduced over time, and that’s good news,” Hardesty said. She said it shows regulations are working.

Committee members said they went through extensive negotiations and multiple days of hearings last year on the bill, and weren’t inclined to repeal it now just as the DEQ is in the midst of negotiated rule-making to put it into effect.

Harwood said he has constituents concerned about the potential effect up north, but neither he nor they has been involved in the rule-making process. He did say, however, that he’s in negotiations with Roy Eiguren, a prominent lobbyist who represents Amalgamated Sugar, a major polluter in Canyon County, on the issue. Harwood said he’d like to exempt North Idaho from the law.

Rep. Dell Raybould, R-Rexburg, the committee chairman, said last year’s bill keeps the EPA from taking over Idaho’s state-run emission program. “Last year there was a lot of negotiations that went on to make this bill palatable to the people,” said Raybould, who voted with the majority against introducing the measure.

Harwood minimized the EPA issue. “They wouldn’t come in right away,” he said. “Necessity is the plea for every infringement on human liberty.”

The fifth-term Republican from St. Maries said his constituents are worried about possible vehicle testing requirements. “That’s been a big concern for folks,” he said, “that we’re going to have to comply when we don’t have any problem.”


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